258 B. POLEVOI
The Chief of Staff of the school, a short, stout, red-
faced, robust lieutenant-colonel with eyes inflamed from
lack of sleep, glared angrily at Meresyev as much as to
say: "What the devil has brought you here? Fve enough
to do without you," and snatched the proffered papers
out of his hand.
"He'll object to my feet and tell me to clear out,"
thought Meresyev, glancing furtively at the dark stubble
on the chin of the lieutenant-colonel. But just then the
latter received two telephone calls at once. He pressed one
receiver to his ear with his shoulder, boomed something
irritably into the other, and at the same time ran his eye
down Meresyev's papers. Evidently, the only thing he
read was the general's scribbled order, for at once, still
holding the receiver, he wrote under it: "Lieutenant Nau-
mov, Third Training Unit. To be listed." Then, putting
down both receivers, he inquired wearily:
"Have you got your uniform issue papers? Ration
papers? You haven't? Yes, I know what you are going to
say. Hospital. There was no time for it. But how am I
going to feed you? Apply for them at once. I'll not put
you through without allowance papers."
"Very well. I will do it at once!" said Meresyev with
delight, and saluting smartly. "May I go?"
"Yes," answered the lieutenant-colonel with a listless
wave of his hand. Suddenly he yelled: "Wait! What's
that?" He pointed to the heavy walking-stick with the
gold monogram, the gift from Vasily Vasilyevich. When
Meresyev left the office, he had forgotten it in the corner
in his excitement. "What is that? Throw the thing away!
One would think this was a gypsy camp, not a military
unit! Or a park: walking-sticks, canes, riding-whips!...
You will soon be hanging amulets round your neck and
putting black cats in your cockpit. Don't let me see that
damned thing again. Fop!"
"Very good, Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel!"
Alexei knew that many difficulties and hardships lay
ahead: he had to put in an application for new papers
and explain to the irate lieutenant-colonel how he had
lost the original ones; owing to the confusion created by
the constant stream of men that passed through the school,
the food was inadequate, and no sooner had the trainees